An increasing number of communities in Pennsylvania are implementing land-treatment systems to dispose of treated sewage effluent. Disposal of treated effluent by spraying onto the land surface, instead of discharging to streams, may recharge the ground-water system and reduce degradation of stream-water quality. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PaDEP) and the Chester County Water Resources Authority (CCWRA) and with assistance from the New Garden Township Sewer Authority, conducted a study from October 1997 through December 2001 to assess the effects of spray irrigation of secondary treated sewage effluent on the water quantity and quality and the fate and transport of nitrogen in a 38-acre watershed in New Garden Township, Chester County, Pa.
On an annual basis, the spray irrigation increased the recharge to the watershed. Compared to the annual recharge determined for the Red Clay Creek watershed above the USGS streamflow-gaging station (01479820) near Kennett Square, Pa., the spray irrigation increased annual recharge in the study watershed by approximately 8.8 in. (inches) in 2000 and 4.3 in. in 2001. For 2000 and 2001, the spray irrigation increased recharge 65-70 percent more than the recharge estimates determined for the Red Clay Creek watershed. The increased recharge was equal to 30-39 percent of the applied effluent.
The spray-irrigated effluent increased base flow in the watershed. The magnitude of the increase appeared to be related to the time of year when the application rates increased. During the late fall through winter and into the early spring period, when application rates were low, base flow increased by approximately 50 percent over the period prior to effluent application. During the early spring through summer to the late fall period, when application rates were high, base flow increased by approximately 200 percent over the period prior to effluent application.
The spray-irrigated effluent affected the ground-water quality of the shallow aquifer differently on the hilltop and hillside topographic settings of the watershed where spray irrigation was being applied (application area). Concentrations of nitrate-nitrogen (nitrate N) and chloride (Cl) in the effluent were higher than concentrations of these constituents in shallow ground water from wells on the hilltop and hillside prior to start of spray irrigation. In water from wells on the hilltop, concentrations of nitrate N and Cl increased in samples collected during effluent application compared to samples collected prior to effluent application. Also, increasing trends in concentration of these two constituents were evident through the study period. In water from wells on the hillside, which were on the eastern part of the application area, nitrate N and Cl concentrations increased in samples collected during effluent application compared to samples collected prior to effluent application. Also, increasing trends in concentration of these two constituents were evident through the study period. However, on the hillside of the western application area, the ground-water quality was not affected by the spray-irrigated effluent because of the greater thickness of unconsolidated material and higher amounts of clay present in those unconsolidated sands. Although nitrate N concentrations increased in water from hilltop and hillside wells in the application area, the nitrate N concentrations were below the effluent concentration. A combination of plant uptake, biological activity, and denitrification may be the processes accounting for the lower nitrate N concentrations in shallow ground water compared to the spray-irrigated effluent. Cl concentrations in water from hilltop western application area well Ch-5173 increased during the study period but were an order of magnitude less than the input effluent concentration. Cl concentrations in shallow ground water in the e
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USGS Numbered Series
Effects of spray-irrigated treated effluent on water quantity and quality, and the fate and transport of nitrogen in a small watershed, New Garden Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania